Internationalizing the Dalits’ movements

“The problems facing Dalits are not only the agenda of Nepal, India or Bangladesh, and it has become an international agenda,…”


Dalit consciousness is complex and it compounds consciousness that primarily links with sociocultural ethics, ideological hegemony, inhuman material conditions, self-humiliation and powerlessness. Dalit problem, therefore, is one of the most serious issues in the South Asian historiography. One may ask, Is it only the problem of South Asia? Moreover, is it primarily the problem of India because that is where casteism still works in a strong way? And then there are the problems of other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. These questions lead to internationalizing the Dalit issues in the first place.

It is a truism that Dalit problem is still not being internationally recognized in comparisons to other issues, like indigenous studies, women’s issues or other areas of marginal studies in local and global contexts; but it does not necessarily mean that Dalit movement has been frozen and paralyzed within limited space. In one or another way, the issues of untouchability have come to be a global subject, particularly for the academics who are concerned with marginalized issues. The primary foundation of internationalizing the Dalit issue is the growing dominance of migration, either in terms of colonialism, modernization or globalization.

The problems facing Dalits are not only the agenda of Nepal, India or Bangladesh, and it has become an international agenda, whereas India has been playing a destructive role not to internationalize it. Inhuman practices toward Dalits in India are worse, but the state and the political parties of India are not ready to ensure their minimum democratic rights while they are calming themselves as the largest democratic country of the world. The huge democratic country is still the hub of casteism. Many people of India, mostly Hindus, who migrated, primarily spread this practice of untouchability in other parts of the world where they settled. Nepal is one such example; casteism was brought here by migrating Indian Hindus centuries ago. Those who practiced casteism did not change it wherever they went, whether it is Europe or other countries of Asia. Brahmanism played big role in such dissemination of this practice. Nepal is one of the examples where casteism was imported and imposed by migrating Indian Hindues centuries ago. Wherever the Hindu castes reached, they tried to establish and impose casteism, and wherever casteism came to be dominant, all other isms came to be superimposed by Brahmanism.

Those Hindus who have been migrated to the so-called highly mordenized countries of the world, primarily the United States, Britain, Australia, and Canada, where untouchability was not in practice, do face the problem of casteism in one or another way. Untouchability is now found in these and other foreign countries as well, among Indians, Nepalis, Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees and the other immigrant Hindus. We have many references where Dalit groups of people are being treated as untouchables in non-Hindu countries, too, among even the so-called highly educated Indians, Nepalis and other caste Hindus where no history of untouchability existed before.

Not only at local and national levels, the issue of untouchability is treated internationally as the problem of South Asian societies, or the problem of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. With the growing trend of immigration and globalization, untouchability has already become an international issue. In the age of triumphalism of liberal democracy and human rights in global contexts, untouchability is and must be foremostly the core issue to be addressed from international level. Britain for the first time passed a bill related to casteism onApril 23, 2013 and banned untouchability or any other forms of caste discrimination. This evidence is one of the justifications of the need of internationalizing the Dalit issues, whereas the Indian Government is still hesitant to address untouchability as an international agenda. They appear to treat casteism and untouchability just as one of their domestic problems, and this is a historic fallacy. We can see Roma community similar to caste Hindu even in Europe.

There are more than 16.6% Dalits in India which is the same as the rate in Nepal. The situation of Dalits in Bangladesh and Pakistan is more vulnerable, where the problems of Dalit have not still been recognized and addressed by the government. No historiography of other countires can be compared with the history of Dalit movements of India. India is the country of the origin of caste system, and it is the country where the great personality B.R. Ambedkar was born, followed by other reknowned Dalit academics and activists like K.R. Narayan, Mayabati etc. However, Dalit issues have not properly been established at the core of politics in India, whereas the hub of the Dalit problem is linked to its past, present and future politics. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s role is seen today not sufficient enough for a move towards Dalit liberation. Gandhi’s Satyagraha in 1933, called the Puna Pact, is one of the examples of anti-Dalit liberation action.

This legacy persists till today. The Bahujan Party also is unable to establish Dalit agenda significantly in India. Until and unless the People’s Party and Congress I in India are not Dalit-friendly as the Nepali Congress of Nepal, propor representation of Dalits in politics will remain just an appeal beyond ground reality. The Indian Communist Party (Marxist) is not playing effective role for Dalits, either, and this becomes visible in the actions of the Communist parties of Nepal as well.

But in comparison to India, Nepal’s political parties look far more progressive in representing Dalits in their political activism. No political parties of Nepal can undermine Dalit agenda now, and all major parties have their sister organizations that have tried to unite Dalits. The word ‘dalit’ has been constitutionally established and accepted in Nepal, but it is still not so in India.

Though India practiced reservation since 1950, it has not been institutionalized and extended up to the grassroots levels. It has given space for backfiring on the issues of reservation in other countries, including Nepal. A huge mass of Dalits in India are below the poverty lines and the percentage of the poorest of the poor Dalits is far higher in India than in Nepal. A recent data show 41% of Dalits in Nepal and 66% in India is under the poverty line.

Regarding the vulnerability of evidences related to untouchability, the degree in India is far higher than in Nepal. Though its implementation looks weaker, the bills passed till now against untouchability look more progressive in Nepal than in India. At the academic level, Dalit literature in India is far richer, but that has been hovering round a circle of certain elite academics only.

Untouchability has already transcended national and South Asian boundaries. Now, Dalit diaspora is one of the important academic spaces to fight against caste discrimination from abroad. We may talk either in terms of ‘old’ or ‘new’ forms of immigration, but Dalits have already transcended the national boundaries and created Dalit diasporas significantly. It has offered opportunities to Dalit youths to engage with modern technologies, Internet, cyber world and advancement of educational or other disciplines of western society.

India has the richest history of Dalit diaspora, but the Indian government or its beaurocracy has not entertained in the process of internationalizing the Dalit issues. They are still hesitant to expose their bitter realities based on casteism and untouchability to international communities. Likewise, Dalit academics are not well liked in political activism and grassroots. Given the fact that the Dalit problem and casteism is central to Indian discourse of social equality and transformations, it can be expected that Indian academics and activists play more effective role in addressing the issues of Dalit diaspora, too. We have to wait to see how the South Asian Parliamentarian Forum on Dalit Concerns recently held in Kathmandu play a role at the international level for the 260 million Dalits of the world.


Does internationalizing the Dalits’ issues or Dalit diasporas really harm anybody or any country? Is untouchability, still rampantly practiced in Hindu society, not a concern of international human rights academics and activists? How effective it would be if the problems of casteism and untouchability could be addressed from the UN, the EU and South Asian special unit levels.

The author is a Lecturer at the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.

Published on 2013-12-13 10:06:27

South Asian Dalit lawmakers form regional forum

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